12 January, 2020

#RTWrites :: How Nora Roberts Taught Me To Write Romance - @RT_writes

Recently, I met a dear author friend who lives in Bangalore for the first time ever. This happens often with us writers. We make friends easily with those who behave like us, i.e. live and breathe books and stories, but these friends are far-flung and distant as often as they live in our neighborhood. Social media is responsible for bringing us all close and I, for one, am super grateful for it.

As is often the case when two people who ‘know’ each other but ‘meet’ each other for the first time, we talked about everything and nothing at all. And, one of the things we talked about…okay, I gushed about, was the wonder of Nora Roberts: undisputed queen of romance in all its wonderful and messy glory.

Dear reader, if you don’t know who Nora Roberts is – there is a handy guidebook on Amazon that will introduce you to her books’ reading order so you never miss out on a single one. Yes, someone actually wrote a book on the number of books Nora has written – which, BTW, is upwards of 250 with more than 100 New York Times bestsellers. She. Is. That prolific.

While these figures are breathtaking and awe-inspiring, they are not the reason why I admire the undisputed queen of romance. The reason is far simpler.

Nora taught me how to weave a story.

Ask ten writers how they see the whole process of writing a first draft, and you’ll guaranteed get ten different answers.

This is mine. For me, a draft is telling a story – a story has a beginning, middle and end. It has peaks and valleys. It has shocking moments. It has tender moments. It has ugly fights and sweet, sweet love. It ends on a hopeful note.

It has, in short, everything that a story told by our grandmamas would. It is comforting, familiar and yet and new and different every single time.

It is woven from feelings, emotions, people, places, things, information condensed into a 60,000-word thing called a story that will, if done the way I intend to do it, will move a reader in some way.
When I first read Nora Roberts’ The Calhoun Sisters as a raw fifteen-year-old, it was the first *first* time I got that sense from a book. I’d been reading comics – Chacha Chaudhary, Tinkle, Champak, Archies, Tintin – and fiction - Blyton, Drew, Hardy, Sheldon, Steel, Rand, Francis, Jordan, Rowling, Tolkien and more – for about ten years by then but…with Nora, it felt comforting, familiar and yet, new and different.

The Calhoun Sisters and most of her work till the late nineties (she started writing in 1986, the year I was born), is genre romance.

Genre romance is specific – it has rules and a formula.

It has clichés, the first of them being AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER. It must always have a lead couple because, hello, romance, and the happily ever after will always come after said couple has gone through the lowest of lows – leaving each other because the issue they are facing is seemingly insurmountable.

Genre romance has steamy, sticky, sexy times depending on which sub-genre you dive into.

But Nora’s romances moved me. Because, Nora’s genre romances were about whole people – not people who were fully emotionally and physically, sexually stable – but whole people. These people had flaws, they worked at jobs that they sometimes liked, sometimes didn’t, they ran businesses, they were friends, siblings, family, parents, often single parents.

They didn’t exist only in relation to each other – which is another unbreakable tenet of genre romance. The story has to focus only on the lead couple.

For instance, in Nora’s first-ever romance Irish Thoroughbred, the heroine a sweet, feisty, god-fearing, Irish lass is a horse trainer in the hero’s stud farm. And she is brilliant at her job. She makes no apologies for it.

In another romance, Untamed, the heroine is a lion tamer (this was the eighties, circuses with performing animals were the norm). She actually controls rescue lions trained by her in a circus that eventually comes to be owned by the lawyer hero.

In one of my most favorite books ever, Rising Tides (Book 2 Chesapeake Trilogy), the hero is a simple lobster fisherman who fosters a prickly ten-year-old boy with his two brothers. And he is content being so. In yet another book, The Villa, the hero is a wintner who literally doesn’t make contact with the heroine till about twenty percent into the story. Admittedly, The Villa is more women’s fiction than genre romance so the first meet could be put off till twenty percent of the story was uncovered but…the fact remains.

These stories were woven from feelings, emotions, people, places, things, and information.

Each of these couples were fully realized people, before they ever came in contact with each other. So, when they met each other they grew. That growth was luscious at times and uncomfortable at others. That makes the story real …it makes it achievable in real life.

This is the most important lesson I learned from Nora Roberts – undisputed queen of messy and glorious romance.

A love story, aka genre romance or sub-genres and variations thereof, could be about more than the lead couple. It should be about more than AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER. It should be about individual growth. It should include who they are when they aren’t with each other and it should include the ugly, broken things too.

When the world of Mills and Boon, which invented and archetyped genre romance, has always been looked at with contempt by the rest of the literary world, Nora Roberts wrote 250 (and counting) ways of telling a love story that was achievable in real life…messily and gloriously so.

It’s what I hope to do every time I sit down to write.

Till next time,

Writer Gal


  1. Yay, congrats on your column! And what a way to kick it off. I can safely say that I agree with all of the above and view Nora as inspiration too.

    1. Thank you! I'm so glad you agree with the Nora of it All! ❤️

  2. Congrats on your column. I look forward to reading your articles. I haven't read much of Nora Roberts. My mom has.

    1. Thank you!! If you like reading books and stories then Nora is a must-read. It is as simple as that. :D